'Fun' Dana goes international

COMEDY: The cast of Cupcakes with Dana Ivgy, third right

DANA IVGY is not known for her comedic performances. From her role as the teenage daughter of a prostitute in Or to an Israeli Jew who becomes involved in a relationship with an Arab in Jaffa, she has rarely played 'fun' roles.

But that has changed for the 31-year-old Israeli with Eytan Fox's Cupcakes.

Released in UK cinemas later this month, it tells the story of a group of friends who write a song which becomes Israel's entry in a Eurovision-like international competition.

"It was the first time I have made a light, colourful and optimistic film," Dana told me. "Many of my films have been very heavy, but I run my own theatre group and we do funny shows.

"People have come up to me after seeing Cupcakes and said they didn't know I was funny or could smile."

Director Eytan's links to Eurovision go back to 1979 when Israel hosted the competition, having won the previous year's contest with Gali Atari and Milk and Honey's Hallelujah.

He assembled a cast of Israeli actors from television and film including Anat Waxman, Ofer Shechter, Yael Bar-Zohar, Keren Berger and Efrat Dor.

And he turned to his cousin, Scott Hoffman, who is Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters, to write the film's main song.

"When I was a child there were only two TV channels in Israel, so Eurovision was a big event," Dana said. "I watched it with my family and we would make bets with each other about who would win. I loved the costumes."

As the daughter of famous Israeli actors Irit Sheleg and Moroccan-born Moshe Ivgy, perhaps Dana was destined to follow in their footsteps?

"I started acting when I was very small - I guess as soon as I began to talk," she recalled. "I didn't know any differently, but I didn't want to say I wanted to be an actress, because it would have been too obvious.

"I said I would be a musician and then I studied film in high school and wanted to be a director. I guess I just couldn't help myself, so I went to study acting.

"I didn't have a 'normal' childhood because of my parents' acting - I travelled a lot to shows and theatres with them and had a place where I could sleep backstage."

She attended the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio in Tel Aviv, where her parents had also studied.

"Nissan was one of the greatest teachers," Dana added. "I looked at drama schools in New York and London, but decided to go there."

One of Dana's first roles after she had graduated was in sports drama Beitar Provence, where she was nominated for best supporting actress by the Israeli Film Academy.

After 2002's Broken Wings, Dana received national attention for her performance in 2004's Or.

Dana's eponymous character struggles to be responsible for her prostitute mother Ruthie (Ronit Elkabetz).

"That film taught me a lot," Dana said. "Ronit is fantastic and a fascinating person and director, Keren Yedaya taught me a lot."

For that role, she received an Ophir Award (Israeli Oscar) for best actress.

And, after starring in Amos Gitai's Disengagement and Haiu Leilot with her father, she teamed up with Yedaya again for the highly acclaimed Jaffa - for which she was nominated for an Ophir Award for best actress.

In it, Dana played Mali Wolf, who falls in love with her childhood Arab friend Toufik (Mahmud Shalaby).

"I felt it was a story that had to be told," Dana recalled.

"We need to recognise that we are not the only people in this country - even if people disagree with it - and there is an important discussion to be had on it.

"If you live in Tel Aviv, you forget what is really going on around you.

"Making the film made me ask a lot of questions and to work with Mahmud was fascinating, especially hearing his side."

Perhaps she can be described as being emblematic of the booming Israeli film industry, which has burgeoned in the last 15 years.

"Israeli directors realised they could be more specific with their stories and what interested them," Dana pondered.

"They could become more personal and they can now be more intimate about their cinema."

Dana, who has been married to artist Itamar Shimshony for seven years and has a three-month-old son Michael, was raised in a non-religious home.

But when she was 10, her mother became religious.

"I am secular and my mother never tried to force anything religious on me," Dana said.

"I did learn new stuff about Judaism and understood it more deeply, though."

As well as being secular, Dana refrains from labelling herself when it comes to the mire that is Israeli politics.

"I don't describe myself as political," she added.

" I don't have enough information because it depresses me so much that I don't read the newspapers.

"Everyone should be treated with respect, but when you live in Israel, not everything is so black and white."

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